A Model That Devalues

Does the Value Added Model (VAM) have a place in Idaho’s classrooms?

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerImagine this scenario: Your job requires you to supervise colleagues at work. In addition, your pay and job retention is linked to the productivity and behavior of the individuals that you oversee.

Such a situation seems like a fairly straightforward corporate setup. But here’s the monkeywrench: despite being a supervisor, you have no tools available to reprimand employees for poor productivity and behavior.

Sure you can talk to them about it. You can even write them up in their employee file. But you can’t mess with their pay. You can’t reduce or increase hours to punish or reward behavior. You certainly can’t fire the employee, no matter how bad their behavior is at work.

This doesn’t mean you give up. In fact, these challenges only motivate you to work harder. You strive to build a rapport with each individual employee. You provide positive recognition to reward good behavior. You even go so far as to spend your own money on small rewards to develop a token economy in the workplace to motivate employees.

Yet, still there’s struggles.  Some of the folks you look over have special needs. Many of them have disabilities that by definition will affect their productivity and produce negative behaviors. Some might even just be learning how to speak English.

Some of these folks disappear for a stint in the correctional facility that a judge has ordered them to attend, so they stop showing up for awhile. Some of them just decide to stop showing up for a week or two at a time. Many leave work early or show up late for medical appointments related to their disability, or just because they feel like it.

Yet, it’s your job to ensure these employees are productive. Their productivity will be measured by an arbitrary test once per year. If employees decide to blow off the test, not take it seriously, and just “click” through the answers you have no tools to invalidate the results. And, like I said, your employees know this and choose to do exactly that action.

So there you are. You’ve worked hard all year with this group of folks. You’ve been their cheerleader. You’ve provided excellent instruction and professional development to your employees. But at the end  of the day, the results that come back are less than stellar.

Unlike your role as a supervisor to your employees, your boss has the ability to dock your pay. And he does this because he somehow thinks this will make you a more effective supervisor in the future. He also threatens to end your employment entirely if those test scores don’t come up.

Sure sounds like you would be motivated to stick it out for another year right?

Such is the life of an educator under the Value Added Model (VAM). Under this model, a teacher’s evaluation is directly linked to student test scores, and potentially their pay.

I’m not here to make excuses. Yet, we need to acknowledge that these are factors that impact teachers everyday. While every teacher wants their students to learn as much as possible every day in their classroom, it is important to understand outside factors play a role in students’ learning.

Under the value added model such an understanding is discounted. Nevermind that a teacher has no control of a student’s home life. Please ignore the chronic truancies. Learn to live with the student who missed half the year because he was in Juvenile Corrections.

Pay no attention to the fact that students with disabilities may have trouble progressing as quickly as their peers. Overlook the fact that this is only the first year the student is learning English. Accept the fact that a student will be gone once per week for a medical appointment and will miss instruction.

Pay no heed when a student alerts you that they “clicked” through the test without trying. Nothing can be done. You are responsible for this student’s score.

Sound fair?

Here’s the kicker. It’s coming. That’s right, last week the legislature discussed just such a change.

The Governor’s Task Force suggested implementing a tiered teacher certification system with salary compensation tied directly to longitudinal data on the effectiveness of the teacher’s instruction. As it stands, that data will likely come from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) due to be rolled out this year.

Here are a few teaching positions that will be especially hit hard under such a system:

Special Education teachers. These instructors work with students with disabilities who may not make as much progress as their general education peers.

English Language Learner instructors. These professionals work with students who are just learning English. It might be difficult for them to pass a test they can’t read.

Alternative Schools and Academies. These instructors work with high risk students, many of whom have challenging behaviors that might impede learning.

But hey, if my real world analogies aren’t enough then let’s look at the data. Two recent studies, one by Educational Testing Services (ETS) and the other by Institute of Education Sciences severely dispute the belief that tying teacher pay to student test scores has any result in increasing student test scores. It doesn’t work.

In other words, it’s a sham. A dangerous sham. Such a system repels teachers from working with students who need the most help such as special education and English Language Learner students because of the test score risk.

Let your legislators know that such a system is unacceptable. Students and teachers deserve better. This isn’t a value added model. This is a model that devalues.


1 thought on “A Model That Devalues

  1. maryollie

    It appears that the profession of medicine will soon have a lot in common with the teaching profession. The link is to a recent Idaho Statesman article on outcome based medicine. In the article, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said she’s heard concerns from some providers about this new approach, given that they have little control over their patients’ lifestyle choices.

    “From a provider’s perspective there’s no guarantee patients will follow through (with a doctor’s orders),” she said. “Yet we seem to be holding providers responsible for the outcomes.”


    Perhaps the professions need to join forces.



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